As the Colorado Avalanche are primed to finally kick the 2021 season off on Wednesday, January 13th against the St. Louis Blues, it is now time to lock in a few thoughts and predictions ahead of the opening puck drop.
Where will the Avalanche finish in the new look West Division standings and with how many points in a scheduled 56 game season?
Evan: I think the Avs will be in the top two in the division, it will be very close between us and Vegas. I can see us ending around 35-40 wins in the 56 game season, with probably about 5-7 of those wins coming in OT. Therefore, I think we’ll end somewhere near 75 points, but who knows what’s to come with the upcoming season.
Tom: There is really only one other team that has a chance to win the West and that’s the Vegas Golden Knights. I think the Avalanche still win the Division (barely) with 74 points. That said, it’s possible Robin Lehner carries Vegas far enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Avs finish second in the West.
Jackie: It has been difficult to wrestle a division crown away from the St. Louis Blues in the past and I have a feeling it will be again. With a shortened season and a schedule against only division opponents I predict a lot of crazy around the league but the Avalanche should end up no worse than top two. It’s not how you start but how you finish but I’ll go with 70 points in the regular season.
Luke: The Avalanche are the best team in the Honda division. While Vegas will keep it close, I expect the Avs to walk away with the division. They're just too good, and add what Byram did at WJC to that defense? I think they win the division with a nice 90 points in 56 games.
Which players will end up top 3 in team scoring (goals and/or points)?
Evan: This seems pretty straightforward to me: the top 3 will be MacKinnon, Kadri, and Rantanen. MacKinnon will be performing on his usual high level, usually getting at least a point a night. Kadri will continue his dominance from the playoffs and carry it into the season and become a solid top 6 forward. Finally, I think Rantanen will rebound from his injuries last season and be right behind Kadri in points come May.
Tom: MacKinnon and Rantanen are the easy two. They’ll be among the league leaders with Nate pushing for the Art Ross. Third becomes a little tricky. I could see Brandon Saad sneaking in there but I am going to make the bold prediction that Andre Burakovsky not only finishes third in points but leads the team in goals.
Jackie: Health and availability is of course a big factor here but I’m not predicting injuries. The top three in points should be MacKinnon, Rantanen and Cale Makar. The budding superstar blueliner was second on the team in points last year despite missing time himself so Makar should be in the running for top three in scoring again. Newcomer Brandon Saad should crack the top three in goals.
Luke: Nathan MacKinnon. Points and goals will be lead by him. I think he will just doninate this year as a continuation of the playoffs and be one of the picks for the Art Ross and Hart trophies too top off a truely dominant season. Second will be Makar. Every second year in a league he has been in, he has dominated and dragged his team to the championship game. He did it in the AJHL, then the NCAA and now he will do it for the Avs as well. I expect him to be a point per game defenseman with a Norris buzz growing as the season goes on. Rantanen will be my third player. He looked off in the playoffs and still managed to be over a point a game. I expect him to bounce back and solidify himself as a top RW in the league this year.
Who will become the breakout surprise on the team?
Evan: I’m going to take a shot out of left-field: I think J.T. Compher will rebound and have a solid performance this season. When the pressure is on, he has performed to a high level, especially in the 2019 playoffs with several clutch goals in the series versus the Sharks. With the shorter season, the pressure to perform and get as many points as possible will suit J.T. and he will get back to his 2019 playoffs form, getting at least 15 goals this season compared to his 11 goals last season. I could be totally wrong, but I hope J.T. performs because he can be a hard-working player to take the team to the next level.
Tom: I’m not sure if it counts as a breakout but I think Avalanche fans might be surprised by just how good Devon Toews is. He was one of the most underrated players in the NHL last year and will play a huge role for the Avs this year - even though he will be overshadowed by Makar.
If Toews doesn’t count, I also think that Tyson Jost is going to surprise a lot of people this season.
Jackie: With most of the team returning it is difficult to see anyone really improving on their game from last year. I expect the same production and even strength minute munching role from Sam Girard but maybe this year people will really see his value and give him the respect and recognition he deserves.
Luke: Tyson Jost. With what Bednar said about him playing PK this year, and putting him in a bottom 6 role with that offensive upside, I think we are going to a different Jost this year. I think he will turn some heads with his defensive play and i full expect him to lead the PK this year. Putting him in a role where he can succeed is why we Jost will break out this year.
Which rookie will play the most games for the Avalanche?
Evan: I think after playing the first two games of the season last year, Conor Timmins will be on the taxi squad consistently and come in if/when there are injuries to the Avs defense. It will be close between him and Bowen Byram, but after the WHL’s announcement of playing a season, I’d think Jared Bednar would want Byram to develop a little more before joining the squad, similar to Cale Makar’s journey to the team. We could also see Byram jump ahead of Timmins, but time will tell.
Tom: It will be Conor Timmins and I don’t think that it will be particularly close. The one thing that could change that would be a winger suffering a long-term injury early in the season, in which case Martin Kaut could end up playing more.
Jackie: I believe Logan O’Connor still qualifies as a rookie so I have a sneaking suspicion it will be him. He’s an easy player to get a lot of games here and there on the fourth line. My hope is the organization just makes a commitment to Byram and he can get up there in games played this season but that remains to be seen.
Luke: Byram & Timmins seems like the easy choices. Timmins already listed as a starter for opening night with EJ not cleared to play and Byram coming off of his WJC performance. But I'll make a case for Martin Kaut. I think he preformed well last year, he is solid in most aspects of his game. I believe you can put him anywhere and he will model his game to that line. I also think the coaching staff will have a small leash for players not preforming well to start. So that will open opportunities for Kaut to jump in and stick very early on. While it’s not the sexy choice, I think Kaut will surprise people this year.